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Data from: Dissolved organic carbon modulates mercury concentrations in insect subsidies from streams to terrestrial consumers

Cite this dataset

Chaves-Ulloa, Ramsa et al. (2016). Data from: Dissolved organic carbon modulates mercury concentrations in insect subsidies from streams to terrestrial consumers [Dataset]. Dryad.


Mercury (Hg) concentrations in aquatic environments have increased globally, exposing consumers of aquatic organisms to high Hg levels. For both aquatic and terrestrial consumers, exposure to Hg depends on their food sources as well as environmental factors influencing Hg bioavailability. The majority of the research on the transfer of methylmercury (MeHg), a toxic and bioaccumulating form of Hg, between aquatic and terrestrial food webs has focused on terrestrial piscivores. However, a gap exists in our understanding of the factors regulating MeHg bioaccumulation by non-piscivorous terrestrial predators, specifically consumers of adult aquatic insects. Because dissolved organic carbon (DOC) binds tightly to MeHg, affecting its transport and availability in aquatic food webs, we hypothesized that DOC affects MeHg transfer from stream food webs to terrestrial predators feeding on emerging adult insects. We tested this hypothesis by collecting data over two years from 10 low-order streams spanning a broad DOC gradient in the Lake Sunapee watershed in New Hampshire. We found that streamwater MeHg concentration increased linearly with DOC concentration. However, streams with the highest DOC concentrations had emerging stream prey and spiders with lower MeHg concentrations than streams with intermediate DOC concentrations; a pattern that is similar to fish and larval aquatic insects. Furthermore, high MeHg concentrations found in spiders show that MeHg transfer in adult aquatic insects is an overlooked but potentially significant pathway of MeHg bioaccumulation in terrestrial food webs. Our results suggest that although MeHg in water increases with DOC, MeHg concentrations in stream and terrestrial consumers did not consistently increase with increases in streamwater MeHg concentrations. In fact, there was a change from a positive to a negative relationship between aqueous exposure and bioaccumulation at streamwater MeHg concentrations associated with DOC above around 5 mg/L. Thus, our study highlights the importance of stream DOC for MeHg dynamics beyond stream boundaries, and shows that factors modulating MeHg bioavailability in aquatic systems can affect the transfer of MeHg to terrestrial predators via aquatic subsidies.

Usage notes


Sullivan County
New Hampshire
Lake Sunapee watershed